Understanding the Score of  Your Energy Data

Published to LA Confidential, Spring 2013

When it comes to energy-related information, utility bills barely scratch the surface. Using them to understand where your budget is going is a bit like trying to read the scoreboard for a sport you don’t understand. But learning how to manage such information can soon have you “batting 1.000”.

To get a grip on what’s happening, smart facility managers may use several types of tools, depending on the data source:

To make sense of monthly data seen on utility bills, energy accounting programs (or services) can be key to discerning trends, finding errors, optimizing tariff rates (where choices exist), and purchasing energy.

To better understand how energy is being used, information from temporary data loggers and permanent monitoring points may be digested by energy analysis programs (or services). They show us details on specific systems, loads, and/or zones. Some energy management and building automation systems (EMS/BAS) collect such data and have built-in trending software.

When considering how a facility’s energy costs are to be managed, it pays to start by looking at the end point(s) one wishes to monitor. Is the goal merely  tracking pricing and costs – or is there a desire to also control usage and demand?

Some software can do both, but trying to “hit all balls with the same bat” may not be the best way to go. Software that does everything may also be very expensive. One vendor quoted over $200,000 for its product. Fortunately, free (or low-cost) tools exist. Many are available as downloads or are web-based.

To track energy data from utility bills, several on-line options are available:

– Noesis.com is free, but a bit limited in scope

– EnergyCAPExpress.com, EnergyWatchdog.com, and FacilityDude.com include many more features and are “cloud” based services.

All involve manual data entry, though some have features that accept one or more utility EDI (electronic data interchange) formats to automatically enter billing data.

In-house versions of EnergyCAP and Metrix are available on CD or flash drive but may cost several thousand dollars, depending on which features are included. Utility billing consultants use such software, and are happy to quote on annual service contracts that not only handle data collection and input, but also identify problems and options with a professional’s eye.

When it comes to energy  data analysis, a cornucopia of software (some free, some not) may be found at the US Department of Energy’s Building Energy Software Tools Directory at: http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/tools_directory/alpha_list.cfm

Tools for all types of analysis are listed and briefly described, including building simulation programs, such as eQuest. When looking for ways to digest energy data, this site is a good place to start.

One free add-in to Excel that is not presently listed at that site is ECAM 2.0 (Energy Charting and Metrics), downloadable at http://www.cacx.org/PIER/ecam/. ECAM handles interval-style data (e.g., hourly, 15-minute) taken from smart utility meters, data loggers, and EMS/BMS. Developed by NorthWrite, a source of many types of non-free energy software, ECAM includes many features found in non-free add-in programs, such as Energy Lens.

The point of such tools is to cut costs by finding saving opportunities: a cheaper rate, a billing error, tuning equipment, or showing the value of an upgrade (e.g., more efficient lighting). Too often, a customer runs up “strikes out” by missing options merely because there was no easy way to identify or value them. But finding an opportunity is like  “getting a hit,” and implementing one is always a “score” when it results in  both dollar and energy savings.

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Hitting A Home Run With An Energy Audit

Published to LA Confidential, Spring 2013

The home run trot is one of the iconic moments of a baseball game. While an energy audit is not as dramatic, the end result can put building managers in a similar position as the slugger who reaps the rewards of a job well done.

Many building managers have found profitable opportunities through energy audits (also called “assessments”) of the energy-consuming systems in their facilities. As with most investments of time and money, the process involves several steps.

“First base” is securing permission and funding to have the audit done. Costs vary based on building type, size, and other factors, but a general range is $.10 to $.22 per square foot, if analyzing all light fixtures for upgrade potential is part of the work. More complex facilities like hospitals or industrials will be at the high end of that range. Simpler buildings like  dorms or warehouses at the lower end. Some energy service companies (ESCos) will perform audits at no upfront cost and “fold” that expense into their price to upgrade the systems.

Due to aging mechanical/electrical systems, facilities that have not had an energy audit performed in the last 10 years may be excellent candidates. During this period a variety of new, more efficient   products and systems have entered the market so you will have many new options for generating savings. In New York City, Local Law 87 requires energy audits for buildings over 50,000 square feet. Other cities are considering similar auditing requirements

Some utilities and state energy agencies will pay for a portion (e.g., 50%) of an energy audit that follows standard protocols e.g., ASHRAE. Seeking such funding is a great way to get to ‘second base” because some owners/managers are tantalized by such “free” money. In New York, NYSERDA’s FlexTech program and Con Edison’s efficiency program will often pay up to 50% of an audit’s cost. NYSERDA’s funding is capped at $1 million per project and Con Edison’s cap is $67,000. Note that the process for securing such incentives may involve a month or two of advance planning. Few (if any) agencies or utilities will pay for an audit completed before an application for funding is received.

When an audit is completed, the auditor’s report will list a variety of energy-saving and upgrade options, typically in the order of simple payback (i.e., how quickly each pays for itself in energy cost savings). Finding several options with good paybacks gets you to “third base”. A 5-year payback, for example, is roughly equivalent to a 20% return-on-investment. Some measures may involve merely tuning a building’s systems or simple maintenance projects, while others may suggest replacement of energy-using components such as lamps, motors, controls, etc. Where feasible, installation of renewable energy systems (e.g., solar panels that make on-site electricity) may also be recommended.

But you hit a true “home run” only when those options are installed and verified to be operating properly (commissioned). That’s when the savings are realized and continue for the life of the upgrade. Some owners/managers balk at spending on such improvements, regardless of the payback, due simply to internal funding constraints. Once again, partial utility/agency funding may be available to defer part of that cost. Some ESCos will even front the money to do so under performance contracts that pay them back out of part of the savings. Such arrangements ensure a positive cash flow from Day One, so there’s no out-of-pocket expense for the facility.

Setting up and managing this process is made easier when overseen by a knowledgeable consultant experienced in such affairs. Acting as an impartial “umpire”, such firms ensure that the game is played fairly so that, in the end, everybody wins!

We’re Hiring!! – PAID Part-Time Social Media/Marketing Intern

Do you have a passion for all things social media? Are you constantly refreshing your Twitter page and thinking up new creative ways to post content on the web? Then we want you to work for us! 

Luthin Associates is on the hunt for a part-time social media/marketing intern for the Fall 2014 semester. This intern will work about 12-15 hours a week updating our various social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, ect). And oh yeah, this is a PAID position

Now, before you get too excited, let’s make sure you fit the requirements…

  • Marketing/Public Relations major
  • Excellent written and verbal communication
  • Creativity with an eye for design
  • Willingness to create blogs, Tweet, and post to Facebook daily
  • Energy, with a desire to come up with fresh ideas on how to grow our online presence
  • Proficient in Microsoft Excel

If you’re interested (we already know you are), please send your resumes in a Word format to Dawn Franco (dfranco@luthin.com).  All questions regarding this job offer can be addressed to Dawn Franco at (732) 774-0005.